If 89 percent of your customers thought you were doing a lousy job, wouldn’t that lead you to do some serious soul searching?

The latest Zogby survey shows the 11 percent approval rating of Congress is another record-book low. But Congress appears oblivious to it all.

“You really [must] work hard,” said Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kansas, at the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council policy conference last week, to hit those numbers.

Yep, you really gotta want it.

Democrats blame their low approval ratings on “the war” — that is, they contend they haven’t been able to use their power to get the U.S. out of Iraq. But could it be that the public has picked up the “business as usual” M.O. on Capitol Hill? Partisan sniping, investigatory overkill, and the pork – yes, earmarks both hidden and blatant — live on!

Congress is missing key deadlines to boot, which could end up costing taxpayers more (much more) than federal elected officials publicly admit they’ll actually spend in the coming year.

Passing the budget is Congress’ most basic responsibility. The fiscal year ended September 30, and not one appropriation bill landed on President Bush’s desk. He is supposed to sign twelve separate bills. Since Congress missed its deadline, they quietly passed a continuing resolution (CR) that keeps the government running at current spending levels until November 16.

This innocuous sounding process is infamous for producing some of Congress’ finest “pork” moments. The CR is passed, and another one follows. Then, Congress simply slams all the bills together in one big omnibus package and sends it to the president for his signature. If one big spending package is sent to the White House this year, it will amount to over $1 trillion. You can pack a lot of pork into that baby.

"So far, this Congress isn’t even close to demonstrating fiscal responsibility. Instead of doing their jobs, addressing the critical financial burdens facing the nation, members of Congress have been scrambling to find new ways to slink off with more pork,” slammed Citizens Against Waste President (CAGW) Tom Schatz in a September 28 press release.

Democrats pledged to clean up the earmark mess, but things have not gotten better. In fact, vote trading for pork (remember the troop funding bill?) and a CR in February containing hidden earmarks demonstrated how quickly the Democrats bellied back up to the pork-pork bar.

This past summer Republican House Leader John Boehner from Ohio, and his colleagues introduced legislation that would require every earmark to be publicly disclosed, subject to challenge and then open to a debate on the House floor. Because House Republicans have hit the wall with regards to trying to work with Democrats on bringing the legislation up for a full vote, Boehner filed a discharge petition on September 20. It would force an up-or-down vote on the earmark reform bill if 218 members sign the petition. To date, 196 members of the House have signed the petition.

Over in the Senate, CAGW is calling out the Senate leadership for rolling back the earmark transparency and accountability provisions of S. 1, the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 (which was only passed two weeks ago!). The bill establishes a challenge process for earmarks placed in appropriations, tax bills and authorizations. According to CAGW, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is claiming that only earmarks included in appropriations bills can be challenged on the Senate floor.

“Senate leaders are manipulating the process in order to maintain secrecy and stuff earmarks into as many bills as possible. In addition, someone is peddling pabulum to the media about a miraculous 50 percent reduction in congressional earmarks,” Schatz said.

Schatz added that the proof will be exposed once the process is complete as “all indications are that members of Congress, particularly the usual spendthrifts in the Senate, are getting ready to lard up federal spending bills as much as ever.”

Wow, and Congress preaches to the business community about how to run their firms and spend their hard-earned dollars. At least, in general, the discipline of the marketplace takes swift, corrective action against entrepreneurs who don’t treat their customers, employees and resources with care. Congress, however, is buffered by the election cycle. But, just as they feverously worked to get to 11 percent, they are really going to have to pour it on to move those numbers in the opposite direction.

Update on Internet Taxes

Beltway Small Business Report readers emailed me about the looming Nov. 1 expiration date of the Internet tax moratorium. (Click and Tax? Nov. 1 Deadline Could Open Internet to New Taxes). I received scores of comments, which can be summed up by the following two reader observations:

From P.C.M.:

“I am for the ban, permanently. I cannot imagine a worse concept than local and state governments being given the power to tax at will with little or no oversight or accountability. I have heard a gambit of how locals think the money will be used, yet at the same time, the recent tobacco tax has mysteriously gone elsewhere and no one seems to mind. What if the local and state governments decide to tax on both the sending and receiving end? The Internet works because it is controlled by the greed of business people rather than the greed of politicians. At least the greed of business has benefits to the consumer — the greed of politicians does not serve the majority of constituents.”

From John, Retired U.S. Navy:

“Some cities want to use the Internet for health care…no new taxes needed on anything! We the people are tired of it…fed up…had enough.”

A Congress committee is discussing the tax Wednesday, demonstrating a heightened awareness that something needs to get done. Although no firm vote date has been set, extending the moratorium (but not making the Internet tax ban permanent) is the type of issue that could pop up overnight. The hope is that the bill is a “clean” one, with no extraneous measures attached to it.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich, and Ranking Subcommittee Member Chris Cannon, R-Utah, introduced an Internet tax moratorium extension bill. The bill, H.R. 3678, would extend the moratorium another four years.

“While I would have preferred to make the Internet tax moratorium permanent today, this extension is necessary to prevent the circling tax vultures from descending on American families. New taxes would stifle economic growth. Ronald Reagan said of government’s view of the economy: ‘If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.’ This legislation preempts that cycle before it starts,” Rep. Cannon said.

Over in the Senate, Republicans are turning up the heat on the pending deadline, and Democrats respond that eventually something will get done. Well, at least it’s on the radar screen. That’s progress in Congress.

Karen Kerrigan is president & CEO of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, a research and advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. that works to protect small business and promote entrepreneurship. She is also founder of Women Entrepreneurs, Inc. , an association helping women business owners succeed through education, networking and advocacy. Kerrigan can be reached at kkerrigan@sbecouncil.org .